In early June of 1994 it came to my attention that a small vineyard in the Barossa ranges, on Flaxman’s Valley road, was for sale. There had been no expressions of interest.
The Australian wine industry was caught somewhat in the doldrums during the early 90’s. Grape prices were low and many growers struggled to make a viable living from their vineyards. I drove up to the property on a gloomy, early Winter Sunday afternoon to take a look. To my surprise, I discovered a 5 acre ( 2 Hectare ) block of very old, although somewhat neglected Shiraz vines on a steep hillside. The next morning I mentioned my discovery to my boss, Robert O’Callaghan and asked if he could take a look to provide an opinion. We hopped the fence and walked into the block. After a couple of minutes he said “ Well, the vines are very old, in good condition, but need a lot of work. You can’t go wrong”. He added “If it helps, and you buy this, Rockford will purchase the fruit”. With Robert’s assistance, I placed an offer and, to my astonishment, was the owner of the property at 6:30 that evening.
To cope with the shock of unexpected vineyard ownership, I immediately set about pruning. It was a slow, laborious task. The vines hadn’t been pruned for several years. I had to cut over-grown cordons away from the ancient, rusting trellis wire. This step-by-step refurbishment was to take the next ten years, ultimately resulting in the complete replacement of the vineyard posts and wire.
As the Spring and Summer of 1994 unfolded, the build up to the 1995 vintage looked quite uncertain. Spring rains created vine disease pressure and, despite a heavy pruning, the yield was looking higher than ideal. Fortunately, the ripening conditions in February and March of 1995 were very favourable. Despite all this work, I was still not sure if the fruit would fulfil my expectations for the Three Rivers Shiraz label. We harvested the 1995 vintage on Sunday, April 9 and crushed the grapes at Rockford early on the morning of Tuesday, April 11. I sold half of the grapes to Rockford, retaining the harvest from the drier, more North-East facing sector of the vineyard hillside for myself.
During the first year of maturation, I decided that 2 of the 4 barrels were more fruit-forward, less brooding, and resolved to create a second label. These barrels were bottled after 24 Months.
“The Randall’s Hill label was born”
I named the wine in honour of Thomas Randall, who purchased the property and planted the vineyard in 1910. The wine was presented as a 3 pack and each bottle was offered at less than half the price of the corresponding Three Rivers. It was very well received. The 1996 vintage was exceptional. There was no Randall’s Hill.
1997 was altogether different. I decided that the seasonal conditions were not conducive to producing any Three Rivers, opting instead to repeat the approach taken with the first Randall’s Hill.
A 7 year drought and very low yields over the intervening years conspired against Randall’s Hill. It was not until 2010, when Shiraz from the Southern, young vine sector of the hillside, which I planted in 1999, started to bear fruit, that the impetus to re-introduce the label again emerged. I made Three Rivers Shiraz from the 1989 to 1994 vintage, sourcing fruit from what are now know as iconic Barossa Valley vineyards until I purchased my property. Continuing my Three Rivers brand until the release of my 1998 wine, branded Chris Ringland Shiraz, due to a trademark dispute in the United States.
As I only bottled around 700 x 750mL until the release of my 1998, where production rose to 1200 bottles, back vintages of Three Rivers and Chris Ringland Shiraz can command quite high prices due to high demand and very limited supply.